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Maut ka Kuan

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Mummy was lying on the bed with her tongue out, when I entered the room. It was just an act to scare me, I know now, but the four year old me, definitely did not. I remember being confused and trying to wake her up, but she just wouldn't move. I had recalled her saying, that if I did not start behaving myself, one day she would not wake up. Oh! maybe that day had come, I had thought. Only when I started crying and promising her that I would now behave forever, she finally got up and hugged me.

I think I got it from her, the habit of fooling my siblings.

One summer, for the first time ever, Jumbo Circus came to our town. We visited it in the first week itself, and were impressed with all that we saw. Clowns, trained wild animals, wonderfully skilled trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, uni cyclists and jugglers, all of them kept us amazed for the entire evening and for many that followed. The circus was the supreme topic of discussion, not only amongst children but also adults. But what had engaged me most was the Maut ka Kuan, where multiple motor cyclists rode inside the Well of Death at top speed. The public had to climb up to the top of the well and peep down to view this feat.

There was a special ticket to witness this exceptional act, guards were assigned to ensure no one went close to the edge. I had heard rumors within my circle in school, that two kids had fallen and died in this well because they had gone too close. The rumor was never confirmed and every adult I went to, had denied its existence, but it was enough to create an air of panic and thrill within me. Maut ka Kuan had been as gripping as expected. It had scared the life out of my younger siblings, Charu and Lucky, then five and three years old.

As soon as we reached home from the circus, I started running in circles in the veranda. Mummy and Papa had already entered the house but Charu and Lucky stayed behind, confused.

'Yeh kya kar rahi ho didi?' Charu asked me innocently.

'Maut ka kuan bana rahi hun. Isse jo cross karega, woh zinda nahin bachega.' My answer revived the horror of the well they had just moved on from.

Days passed, but my prank lived on. I would suddenly start running around in circles while they waited to pass, lest something bad should happen to them.

One day, Neha and Mohit, their friends from across the street had come to play.

'Aap dono aise kyun khade ho, khel kyun nahin rahe?' they asked.

'Abhi didi ne Maut ka Kuan banaya hai, isse cross nahin kar sakte hum, nahin toh...' but before they could finish giving their advise, Neha and Mohit had already navigated through my well.

My siblings may have had deceived looks on their faces but I did not stop to see. Embarrassed, I continued running, while they conquered their fear and crossed my circle.

Later that day, I mustered up some courage and confessed that I had played a trick on them. I convinced them that it was completely okay for an elder sibling to do so. I don't know what they thought about it or if they discussed it later, but thankfully it did not affect my dominance.

I had moved to a boarding school in Mussoorie from the third grade onwards, so was home only for two months during winter vacations and for twenty days in summer. Papa had a strict schedule for our studies and since I never carried my books home, giving an excuse that the school did not allow us to do so, I was in-charge of Charu's and Lucky's studies during Papa's absence.

One such day, when papa had an evening shift, I was the monitor. Charu had always been fond of studying, so my focus was more upon Lucky. She had a General Knowledge exam the next day and I had given her a deadline to revise everything, by 6 pm, post which I was to ask her questions. She was prompt to give me her book sharp at six, 'ho gaya sab yaad didi, kuch bhi puch lo.'

I started from the beginning, she was quick with the answers at the start but I could see her confidence swaying as we moved ahead. After a few wrong answers, I most politely gave her book back and asked her to take her time, revise again and come back only when she was fully ready. Ten minutes later, she was back. This time, I started with the questions she had not answered earlier, she knew them all. I was almost impressed until I started with the questions she had already answered and she couldn't remember any. Taking a deep breath and keeping myself extremely calm, once again I gave the book back, this time with a civil note. 'Lucky, take as much time as you want, but when you decide to come back, you will be awarded one slap for every wrong answer'.

She seemed to have taken me seriously for she did not come back for an entire hour. When she finally did, I ensured I kept my promise. After multiple slaps and some words of encouragement, Lucky was finally ready for her exam and I was proud to have played a major role.

Papa came back from his office at midnight, I was fast asleep by then. I woke up to Lucky's sobs in the other room and peeped in to see.

'Papa please, mein didi se nahin padh sakti,' Lucky was sitting on Papa's lap and complaining.

'Arre betu, didi se padhogi toh first aaogi class mein,' Papa was wiping her tears.

'Papa, bhaiya ko bhi toh toh first aana hai. Bhaiya ko padhane ko bolo. Mein aapse hi padhungi.'

I didn't stay back to hear any further. She was almost shivering as I recall now and if I could go back to my past, I might decide to make amends. But back then, it had felt as a position of great responsibility.

She topped her class in that particular exam and she wrote to me describing her happiness. I had been feeling a little guilty for all those slaps but the outcome was positive. I felt proud and motivated enough to ensure many such incidences, which I would regret later.

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